It is a very difficult thing to predict potential. Some draft prospects ooze with natural talent and a seemingly unlimited ceiling, those are the obvious ones.
But with other players, a seemingly raw skill set combined with a tremendous drive and work ethic can blossom into stardom. That is why picking the right players in the draft is not only difficult but also fascinating.
For every LeBron James, Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns that come in at first overall, there is a Draymond Green, Jimmy Butler or Isaiah Thomas who is picked late but defies all expectations.
Those three are among the best the NBA has to offer but they were drafted in 35th, 30th, and 60th respectively. So who is there in this draft that might defy expectations and break out like Green, Butler, and Thomas?
NBA Draft: Selected 54th by Atlanta Hawks (traded to Cleveland Cavaliers)
Don’t let that mock position fool you. Kay Felder’s handles are ridiculous, his scoring game is really well developed and his playmaking is among the best for his age. When you watch him, you feel like you are already watching an NBA player, so polished and mind-boggling is his complete offensive arsenal.
“Felder was possibly the most statistically dominant player in college basketball last season, finishing third nationally in scoring at 24.4 points per game and first nationally in assists per game at 9.3. Remarkably, he did this despite a usage rate that was outside of the top 20 nationally, speaking to an efficiency within his game that is exemplified by his 57.2 true shooting percentage and his low 13.9 turnover rate,” said Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports, listing the biggest sleepers in the draft.
"When people tried to take the drive away, he could get right into them, step back, and bury the shot. Now how do you guard him?” his coach Greg Kampe said to Chris Dortch of NBA.com. "I think he really got to the point where he could see what was going to happen before it happened. And he had some good shooters around him. He knew that and trusted his teammates. And he was really intelligent in the offense."
This should make for interesting reading for Cleveland Cavaliers fans as they acquired the rights to Felder from the Atlanta Hawks on draft night. Felder is just 5’9” and that's something that has led to many scouts doubting how his game will translate to the professional level.
“It’s always going to be an issue (for them). It’s nothing I can get past. I’m not getting any taller,” Felder told Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press.
Between his size and the fact that he didn’t play for a top college, Felder has not been aggressively recruited, a fact that the point-guard himself actually likes.
“It definitely helps my story because it shows I came from the bottom up,” he said to Snyder. “It definitely shows a lot of work ethic.”
“He's a hard-working kid. But a lot of kids work hard. What separates him is competitiveness,” Oakland assistant coach Drew Valentine said to Dortch, echoing Felder’s own statement.
To neutralise the disadvantage that is his height, Kay has developed a very athletic and powerful physique for his size with a borderline insane vertical. That is what makes him different to fellow oft-compared guard, Isaiah Thomas. It’s not like smaller players cannot make the NBA anyway- Muggy Bogues anyone?
Felder’s strength should help compensate for his height but he knows it won’t make up for his defence, a part of his game he is striving to show he can do.
“For me, it’s just about being myself and showing that I can play defense,” he said to Snyder. “That’s really what I’m accomplishing in every workout.”
Felder is said to have impressed at his many workouts and being drafted means everything to him.
For me, Felder has every tool necessary to be a star. His handles are scary, his scoring is relentless, his playmaking is visionary and his athleticism is outrageous. It is crazy that he fell so low because he will be a star. He is top of this list. Watch this space.
NBA Draft: Selected 15th by the Denver Nuggets
Part of what makes “Juancho” such a sleeper from this draft class is that his flaws are minor and easy to address. His physique is not optimal and will see him struggle against the bigs of the NBA, but he is still young and should bulk up and fill out his frame soon.
His defence is still underdeveloped but he is only 20-years-old and, as DraftExpress note, “he likely has the tools to develop into a very solid defender as he gains experience.” Juan’s court awareness is doubted but he comes from a basketball family so, with good coaching, he could blossom into a very intelligent baller.
Hernangomez has plenty to impress you on the offensive end. Despite not having standout height or strength, “Juancho” has good athleticism to aid him and “gets his production in a variety of different ways, be it as a spot-up shooter, as a cutter/pick-and-roll finisher, crashing the offensive glass, or running the floor in transition,” via DraftExpress.
“On the offensive end, he can score in a variety of ways. His three-point game has improved as he’s gotten older (it jumped more than 10 percentage points from last year) …” John Gonzalez of csnphilly.com explained, highlighting Juan’s already-developing game.
It is this versatility on offence that has helped him become a productive member of the Spanish league, possibly the second best league in the world, when most youngsters are forced to wait. It also potentially lets him play at both forward spots. He has done so in Spain but likely won’t be able to play small forward immediately at NBA level.
“Whoever’s going to get him is going to get a real steal. He can trail and shoot the three. He’s a tough, physical player. What I like about him is he has a good wingspan, more than 7 feet, and he plays above the rim…” NBA.com’s David Aldridge was told by an anonymous executive.
What makes “Juancho” stand out for me, though, is his energy and his toughness. Einstein once said “genius is 1% talent, 99% hard work” and Hernangomez will use that to thrive in the NBA as a scorer and rebounder, as long as he adapts off the court. He plays with a competitiveness and supreme energy that should help him grow as a player, so long as he can temper it.
His work ethic and scoring talents, if combined with improved passing, strength, and a cooler head, could lead “Juancho” to becoming a real impact player in the NBA for the Denver Nuggets and one of the steals of the draft, if not a star.
NBA Draft: Selected 43rd by the Houston Rockets
Perhaps the most intriguing player in the draft is the mysterious Zhou Qi from China. He dominated the league in blocks, which is impressive when players like Samuel Dalembert are among the competition. He also has a solid offensive game and that, alongside his ultra-slender frame, has drawn comparisons with Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony Davis and Dirk Nowitzki.
"I used to call him Anthony Davis because of the things he can do on the court," NBA and CBA veteran Jordan Crawford told Bleacher Report. "His mid-range is money; he'll never miss that shot. He blocked a lot on defense, dribbles well, can jump...”
That is high praise but Crawford is not alone in praising the center:
"The stuff Qi can do at that size, if he really is just 20 years old, is crazy," Bobby Brown of the NBA and CBA said to Bleacher Report. "Our translator said he was like 24-25, though. He needs confidence and guidance.”
That is where things take a downturn. Sure, the spaghetti-limbed Chinaman has heaps of talent. He can score and block very well, but there is just so much we don’t know. Scouts are not even sure if Zhou Qi actually is 20 years old and that is perhaps one of the reasons why his draft projection is so low.
We don’t know how his game might translate to the NBA. We don’t know what his plans are or what the plans of the Houston Rockets are. That’s part of the allure of Qi and, trusting that Qi’s age is 20, it’s also why I picked him over Brice Johnson.
For sure, Qi would need to bulk up to be a star in the league at just 218lbs despite his 7’2” height. Zhou knows that as well as anyone.
"He needed to gain weight and get stronger and bigger—not just for the NBA but also for the Olympics as he takes on a much bigger role with China's national team," Tony Leng, Zhou’s agent said to Bleacher Report.
Still, Zhou Qi is extremely talented in almost every facet of a center’s game. One thing that could make him unique is, per DraftExpress, “his ability to stretch defenses beyond the three-point line, while providing a shot-blocking presence in the paint,” which is “coveted in today's NBA.”
There are a lot of questions about Zhou Qi but, now that he's entered the NBA, he should progress well. If Qi can bulk up, his unique skill set could put him among the best centers in the NBA and should make some teams wish they had drafted him higher ahead of the Rockets.